It’s very strange being sick in the time of COVID-19: Are these regular old symptoms, or something more dangerous? Is this just a bug, or is this “It”? Am I going to have an easy, uncomplicated recovery, or am I suddenly going to get very ill and end up in the hospital? Do I let my guard down if I start to feel better, or is that when the real trouble starts?
That last part is where I am now, wondering if I’m close to an all-clear. Eleven days ago, I woke in the middle of night with belly pain. I didn’t think much of it – it felt like the aftermath of a questionable taco. Then came a few days of diarrhea. I still thought it could be anything or nothing, but in the back of my mind, a tiny worry set in. We all know the COVID symptoms by now. Diarrhea and abdominal pain show up in about 1/3 of cases. So, I backed off my daily walks and resolved to use delivery services, just in case. Then the fever, headache, and body aches started.
My tiny back-of-mind worry turned into a sizable front-of-mind fear. My doc thought my symptoms warranted testing, but at the time, tests in my area were reserved for high-risk folks and healthcare workers. So, like so many other people with symptoms but no test, I would just have to wait it out in the dark.
A friend who recently recovered from a long bout with pneumonia-inclusive coronavirus shared some precious insight on what had helped (fresh air, lots of sleep, more water than you possibly think you can drink), what she wishes she’d known (could she prevent potential blood clot issues? Should she get a pulse oximeter?), and a warning: despite 8-9 days of difficult physical symptoms, the worst part of her struggle was mental. It was not knowing what was happening, or what was going to.
I surprised myself by taking the not-knowing with a sort of calm at first. But it was less about stoicism, and more about tired resignation. As the uncertainties have stacked up over the past couple of months, my anxious mind has surrendered to a sort of acceptance fatigue. The reality right now is, I just have to be okay with things not being okay.
Over the weekend I learned the county organized a pop-up community testing event for all. I drove out there on Monday and waited along with 600 or so others, our cars lined up amusement-ride style. As I slowly navigated a series of church parking lots, my acceptance fatigue gave way to something more visceral. Did I really want to know? What would I do with the information that I wasn’t already doing, except freak out more loudly? What was worse, knowing? Or not knowing?
My anxiety rushed back with a vengeance as I thought about what a positive result might mean – about hospitals and ventilators and strokes (never mind that most cases are mild). In that moment, I felt desperate to turn my car around.
Closer to the testing tents, volunteers copied down my identifying info on stickers for a swab tube and a specimen bag and tucked them under my windshield wiper. We kept talking to a minimum from behind our respective masks. I wanted to ask questions, but I didn’t want to share any more air than absolutely necessary. I tried instead to say thank you with my eyes (I probably looked crazy – we should all get virtual smizing lessons from Tyra Banks). Further up, a nurse named Rachel directed me to pull down my mask so she could swab both my nostrils seemingly all the way back to the brain. “It will be ok,” she said from behind her own mask and visor.
The 30 or so volunteers, all decked out in PPE in the hot Georgia sun, had clearly been out there for some time before the site opened at 3, and would likely be clearing the long line for some time after the scheduled 7 p.m. closure. A table of helpers taking a break near the testing station all waved and mask-smiled at me and everyone else as we finished up and drove away. Each one along the way was so patient and kind. Someone handed me a leaflet on my way out that said I would receive my results, “as soon as they became available.”
As of this writing, I still don’t know if I have COVID-19. I’m feeling a little better, and then not, and then a little better again. Friends check in on me every day: Do I need anything? What is happening? I try to tell them, but I don’t have the real answer. I don’t have real answers for much of anything, I’ve realized.
And I don’t like not knowing, I’ve decided. I don’t like this waiting. I don’t like feeling out of control. But I love all these people who are trying to help me. They make “we’re in this together” so much more real than all those commercials with somber piano. I see those volunteers in the heat, and my friends with their info and check-ins and care. I see my neighbors building a community garden for anyone, and a table down the sidewalk with a sign reading, “Free hand sanitizer – take one.” It makes me want to believe Rachel, that it will be ok. I hope it will – for me, and for all of us. I’ll try my best to help make it that way. I can at least control whether I’m patient and kind along the way.